Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Finding Paradise With MLK and Adam Clayton Powell

There's something about Bahamian out islands. I don't know if it's the isolation that allows for a more peaceful vibe or the honor for tradition and culture that permeates most of these tiny slips of paradise.  All I know is that it feels different whenever I land on an out island and Bimini is no exception. Serenity seems to fill the air. Clearly, I'm not the only one to feel this way since two historic African American activists, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell Jr, both found inspiration on Bimini.

New York congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. paved the way for equality and justice in the U.S. Flashy and bold, his favorite phrase was "keep the faith baby." And he demonstrated plenty of faith, first as the pastor of the country's leading  African American church, Abyssinian Baptist Church and then as the first African American to represent New York in the House of Representatives. He battled and pushed against segregation at every chance he could, demanding desegregation of the White House press gallery, eating in the whites only House restaurant and introducing so much anti-discrimination legislation that the rider that prohibits federal funding to any organization that practices discrimination is called the Powell Amendment. It was added to the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and he became known as "Mr. Civil Rights."  But non-stop battles take a toll and Powell found refuge in the beauty of Bimini. During his last, controversial term in congress in the late '60s, he spent more time on Bimini than he did in DC. His house still stands, like a nonchalant beacon among the palm trees The house is pictured below, it's a rental cottage, the plaque that recognized its important history has vanished. Adam Clayton Powell spent his last years in Bimini. He died in 1972 and his ashes are scattered over the water that touches the island which supplied him with so much peace.

It was Adam Clayton Powell who invited Dr. Martin Luther King down to enjoy the serenity of Bimini. I think that Adam probably recognized the spiritual benefits of being surrounded by natural beauty, especially as you are waging a spiritual war against the country that refuses to recognize your humanity.  Dr. King was escorted on fishing trips by local fisherman, Captain Ansil Saunders. They sailed along the mangrove-lined Bonefish Creek and Dr. King was reportedly so soothed by the beauty that he declared that the island was as close to heaven as he could imagine on Earth. Dr. King wrote his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Bimini and four years later, he returned to write his very last speech for striking sanitation workers in Memphis. That final speech of "seeing the promised land," was written while Dr. King was floating in the creek and communing with the natural landscape of Bimini. He was assassinated the day after he delivered that speech. Two memorials honor Dr. King's presence in Bimini, one sculpture is erected in the middle of the mangroves that he loved and the other sits in the middle of Bimini's capital of Alice Town, shown below.

There are plenty of islands that offer relaxation so what makes Bimini so special? I believe that it's about much more than just finding solitude. Two ministers and civil rights activists connected to Bimini at pivotal times in their lives. I think that the warm simplicity of the people combined with the allure of the pristine landscape captured them. Bimini does not provide a lot of hotels, shopping or attractions, then or now. It's a small island that forces you to appreciate the joys of people and nature because that's all there is. And sometimes, that's enough.


Catherine said...

Yes - people and simplicity of nature - that really is enough - so interesting to see who connects with which place - both when and why - something I am grappling with right now as I plan to move back to London after a decade away.....thanks for this post and Greetings from Nice - soon to be London....

Fly Girl said...

Catherine, London and Nice are both really special places so I can understand the difficulty.